Ultravox: John Orwell läßt grüßen

Sounds, Germany (December 1978)

von Alfred Hilsberg

Ultravox soll eine Erfindung der Plattenfirme, eine synthetische Band sein. Das stimmt nicht, das muß irgendein fauler Journalist erfunden haben.

Nein, wir haben uns vor mehr als drei Jahren an der Kunstschule zusammmengefunden. Ich war, wie die anderen auch, genervt von der englischen Musizszene, weil sie sehr stark die amerikanische Musik imitiert hatte. Deshalb hatte ich Interesse, eigene Musik zu machen, einen eigenen Weg zu gehen. Es müßte so etwas wie europätische Musik geben.

Welche Gruppen waren deiner Meinung nach damals wichtig?

Vor allem Velvet Underground. Zum Beispiel haben sie lange vor den Who dieses Feedback eingesetzt. Ich habe auch damit herumexperimentiert, mit einer Gitarre, einfach so für mich…

Eure Bühnenschau ist stark visuell geprügt?

Ja, das kommt auch daher, daß ich Filme genauso wichtig finde wie Rockmusik Aber in der Welt des Kinos kenne ich mich nicht aus, deshalb habe ich mit anderen Dingen angefangen. Einmal habe ich mit Video gearbeitet. Wir haben Leuten ihr eigenes. Verhalten in einem Raum etwas zeitversetzt vorgeführt. Es ist sehr spannend, die Leute bei ihren Reaktionen zu beobachten. Wir haben Video bei seinen Eigenschaften genommen…

Sind eigentlich Texte wie der “Quiet Man” autobiografisch gemeint?

Manchmal schon.Mein Leben ist zum großen Teil öffentlich geworden. Und ich mag es, die Aufregung, die Hektik, vor allem auf einer Tournee. Aber andererseits liebe ich auch meine Privatheit, die Ruhe, das Schweigen. Aber ich brauche das Geld, das bei einer Tour hereinkommt. Also versuche ich, eine Art paralleles Leben aufzubauen, in das ich mich zurückziehen kann.

Solche Widersprüche sind wohl auch in anderen Texten. Die Worte scheinen nicht zueinander zu gehören. Wie “Systems Of Romance” zum Beispiel?

Das wirkt vielleicht auf den ersten Blick paradox. Manche Leute meinen Romantik sei etwas Natürliches. Aber schon wenn du einen Roman schreibst, wird Romantik systematisch aufgebaut, es ist ein ganzes System. Das hab eich auch auf dem Cover ausdrücken wollen, wo ich zur visuellen Beschreibung der Phrase Bilder z.B. aus Anzeigen verwendet habe. Zeichen, die dich täglich umgeben. Wie den modischen Anzug, den jemand trägt. Die Mode gehört auch zum System der Romantik. Ebenso die Stadt, in der du lebst. Und wie sich die Menschen darin einrichten. Und wie sie die Regenttropfen empfinden, die vor weißem Neonlicht niederfallen. Die Politik gehört auch dazu. Zum Beispiel die Lenin-Statue auf dem Roten Platz in Moskau. Aber bevor sich jemand mit Politik befaßt, sollte er sich darüber klar werden, was er von anderen Menschen überhaupt will. Welchen Einfluƒ er auf andere haben will. Das ist vor allem eine Frage des Image. Und dazu gehört ein Foto, sehr sauber, mit dem richtigen Gesichtsausdruck… Politik ist wie Pop-Musik.

Von der ihr auch ein bestandteil, seid…?

Sicher, ja, es wäre dumm. Es nicht zu sein. Es geht ja darum, die Mechanismen zu verstehen, wie dieses System funktioniert. Ich haben inzischen viele Einzelheiten davon mitbekommen, ich bin auf dem Weg, es zu verstehen. Das bringt mich weider ein Stück weiter. Das Image… Vermutlich was das Image von unerem ersfen Album sehr naiv, dieses Blitzlicht-Foto eines guten Fotografen. Ich mag die Musik immer noch, aber was hat sie mit dem Foto zu tun?

In euern drei Alben ist zunächst die Entwicklung festzustellern, daß ihr mehr und mehr elektroische Mittel einsetzt. Das erste Album hatte viel mehr traditionelle Rock-Elemente?

Wir haben mit der Zeit gelernt, was wir im Studio machen künnen. Im Unterschied zu manchen haben wir einen Synthesizer-Ton ent-deckt und diesen weiterentwickelt. Das erste Ergebuis war der auf der Schlagzeug-Grundlage entstandene Song “My Sex”, dann “Hiroshima Mon Amour”. Auch in “Quiet Man”, das ich vor der Producktion fertig hatte, haben wir eine Rhythmus-Maschine eingesetzt. Die hat schließlich das ganze Stück bestimmt.

Bei euern Aufritten habe ich den Eindruck, als warteten die meisten Zuhörer auf die gängigen Songs – vor allem Stücke, die das Gefühl ansprechen. Stellt ihr euch irgendwie darauf ein?

Wemm wir in erster :inie eine Pop-Band wären, würden wir erfolgreicher sein. Aber entscheidend ist: Ich möchte stolz sein auf das, was ich mache. Ich kenne die Erwartung an uns, daß wir headbanging-Rock machen sollen. Aber wir tun es nicht, obwohl wir den Rock mindestens ebenso gut spielen können wie andere Bands. Und wir haben bemerkt, daß viele, die zunäscht nur den Rhythmus von “Rock Wrok” gut fanden, sich intensiver mit dem Stück und mit anderen auseindersetzten.

Kommen die Punks vor allem zu euern Konzerten, weil du ein Image verkörperst, das des Mechanical Man?

Sicher mag das ein Grund für viele sein. Aber wir unterscheiden uns insgesamt von anderen Bands. Auf der einen Seite kommen Leute, die in erster Linie unsere Musik gut finden. Auf der anderen Seite soche, die sich mehr mit den Texten beschäftigen. Die Reaktionen der Punks kann ich gut verstehen. Ich war schließlich in meiner Gegend in Mittelengland selbst in einer Straengang. Für die Kids bedcuten Emerson oder Yes genauso wenig wie für mich.Und daß sie den Mut haben, einfach auf die Bühne zu gehen und selbst zu spielen, das ist gut. Auch wenn es am Anfang furchtbar klingt. Als die Who “My Generation” gemacht haben, konnten sie kaum spielen. Jetzt ust das Stück ein Klassiker. Eno spielt immer noch nicht gut. Aber er macht wundervolle Sachen. Vielleicht gerade deshalb (Lacht!)

Wie ihr kommen insbesinders viele New Wave-Gruppen aus den Industrie-Regionen der Insel nach London…?

Dafur gibt es einen haupt-sälchlichen Grund, abgesehen davon, daßes nicht neu ist Rock’n’Roll ist für viele Kids die einzige Müglichkeit, ausihren Verhältnissen rauszekommen. Früher wollte man Boxer oder Fußballer werden. Zwei meiner Freunde sind so Profi-Füßballer geworden. Ich komnnte nicht F¨ßball spielen. Also wurde ich Künstler.

SYSTEMS OF ROMANCE wurde in Deutschland im Studio von Conny Plank puduziert. Warum habt ihr euch dafür entschieden?

Schon sehr lange habe ich die Produktionen bewundert, die aus Deutschland kamen, wie Neu und Kraftwerk. Bei diesen Aufnahmen habe ich den Eindruck, daß die deutschen Rockmusiker zum erstenmal nicht die amerikanische Musik nachspielen, sondern eine eigene Identität finden. Wir trafen Conny Plank bel einem unserer Konzerte im “Marquee”, und er sagte “Vielleicht können wir mal zusammenarbeiten.” So fing es an. Und wir kamen nach Köln, als Eno mit Devo dort arbeitete. Es war faszinierend, die drel Tage. Und wir haben uns entschieden mit Conny das nächste Album zu produzieren. Er versteht, was wir wollen. Er hat uns gezeigt, wie er unsere Ideen umsetzen kann. Das ist das Geheimnis eines guten produzenten.

Hat sich diese neue Erfahrung Deutschland, die neue Umgebung, auf eure Absichten ausgewirkt?

Ja, denn das Album vorher, HA HA HA haben wir mitten in der Londoner City produziert, in der ganzen Hektik, in Räumen ohne Fenster. Während Conny’s Studio eine sehr schone Umgebung hat, Landschaft, auf die man sehen knn Davon ist zumindest “Quiet Men” beeinflußt… Wahrend unserer letzten Tournee durch Deutschland haben wir gemerkt, daß das Land viel stärker organisiert ist als England. Da lief auch die Fahndung wegen der Baader-Meinhof-Leute, wir haben die Spannung gespürt. Die Polizei war sehr aktiv… Hinter dieser gut organisierten Fassade ging etwas anderes vor sich…

Wie erklärst du dir, daß viele Musiker and Rock-Fans in England die deutsche Elektronik-Musik für “das Großte” halten, während es bei uns nicht so ist?

Es geschah schon oft in der Gerschichte, daß der Prophet im eigenen Lande nichts galt. Auch Velvet Underground waren in England beliebter also in den USA. Aber Erfolg, was heißt das… Wir sind zufrieden, wenn wir genug Erfolg haben, um unsere Dinge weitermachen zu können. Ohne immer dasselbe mchen zu müssen, wie z.B. viele Teenager-Bands. Da kann man dumm werden. Es gibt noch so viel Musik zu entdecken.

Wie kommst du damit klar, einerseits auf der Bühne zu agieren wie eine Art Superstar, andererseits aber mehr in einer Kult-Band sein zu wollen?

Interessanter finde ich es schon, in einer Kult-Band zu sein. Dann hat man ein Publikum, das sich benüht, einen zu verstehen. Das mit dem Superstar-Image sehe ich nicht so. Ich benutze zwar Verhaltensweisen, wie sie bekannt sind, abersolange ich mir dessen bewußt bin, werden sie nicht zu einer festen Einrichtung. Zu etwas Vermarktbarem, so wie das Image, ein Trinker oder ein Drogen-Typ oder ein sexuell seltsamer Star zu sein. Ich versuche zumindest, solchen Mechanismen der Vermarktung nicht zu unterliegen.

Warem trägst du diese Nicht-Farbe Schwarz?

Ich mag es, das ist alles… Mir ist eine interessante Sche eingefallen. Es würde großartig sein, überhaupt kein Image zu haben, kein Gesicht. Eine Platte zu machen, aus der einfach deine Stimme kommt. Jeder der sie hört, kann seine eigene Person dazu erfinden. Aber das ist ein seltsames Konzept, nachdem schon länger als 40 oder 50 Jahre das Gegenteil passiert.

Würdest du eure Musik als funktionelle Musik bezeichnen?

Das einzuordnen… Letzt lich hängt es immer davon ab, was die Leute erwarten. Manche ommen nur zu einem Konzert, um einem schönen Abend zu verbringen. Andere warten nach dem Konzert auf uns, um mit uns über die Texte usw, zu sprechen. Besonders in Deutschland gesscheiht das… Ich finde es genauso gut, daß die Leute einfach Musik zum Tanzen toll finden, den Sound… ja, den Disco-Sound, das ist doch unheimlich gut gemacht. Es ist sehr funktionelle Musik. Take it or leave i! Ich mag keine Prediger!

Eure Musik und deine künstlerischen Arbeiten, die Collagen und Zeichnungen, scheinen mir beeinflußt von Konstruktivismus, auch vom Futurismus?

Gewiß ja. Die Futuristen waren eigentlich die ersten, die in Geschwindingkeit und in Maschinen etwas Positives sahen. Ich bewundere diese Anschauung, weil es ein neuer Weg ist, die Dinge verstehen zu lernen. Nicht so zu verfahren, wie die die Hippies in ihrer Ablehnung jeglicher Technologie. Mein Vater hat mir einmal erklärt, wie sorfältig ein Buch gemacht wird, vom Fällen des Baumes, der Holzund Papierverarbeitung, dem Schreiben, denm Druck, bis das Buch in die Läden kommt. Seitdem habe ich sehr viel Respekt davor, auch vor den Maschinen, denn sie sind auch von Menschen gemacht. Ich weiß, daß einige Leute viel Geld damit verdienen, andere Menschen für sich arbeiten lassen und ihnen damit das Leben praktisch wegnehmen. Wie das geändert werden kann, weiß ich nicht. Dazu muß man sich erst einmal selbst erfahren können und eine Menge anderer Dinge wissen. Die Worte in “I Want To Be A Machine” sind so etwas wie eine Vision davon, daß wir alle Teil einer Maschinerie, einer Image-Bildung sind, in der einige versuchen, uns daraufabzurichten. Dine zu kaufen, die wir gar nicht f¨r unser Leben brauchen.

Zählst du Musik auch dazu?

Musik kann als ein Instrument eingesetzt werden, als funktionelle Musik. Oder aber, um sich aelbst zu verändern. Bevor ich etwas veröffentliche, arbeite ich sehr gewissenhaft daran. Ich hoffe, daß es die Zuhörer verstehen. Ob es Kunst ist, weiß ich nicht. Zumindest eine Tätigkeit, die man anfängt, wenn einem Essen und Trinken nicht ausreichen.

 

Ultravox: Greetings from John Orwell

By Alfred Hilsberg

Ultravox have been described as an invention of the record companies, a synthetic band?

That’s not true, some lazy journalist must have invented that. No, we met at Art School more than three years ago. I was, like the others, annoyed by the English music scene because of the way it had become an imitation of the American scene. That’s why I was interested in making my own music, to go my own way. There had to be something like European music

Which groups did you think were important in those days?

Especially Velvet Underground. For example, they used this feedback long before The Who. I experimented with feedback too, just me with a guitar…

Your stage show is very visually considered?

Yes, that’s because I think movies are as important as rock music. But I don’t know my way around the world of cinema, so I started doing other things. Once I worked with video, filming people on their own in a room. It is very exciting to watch people’s reaction to their own behaviour. And video has its own properties…

Are lyrics in songs like the “Quiet Man” meant to be autobiographical?

Sometimes. My life has become public in a large part. And I quite like that, the excitement, the hustle and bustle, especially on a tour. But on the other hand, I also love my privacy, the quiet, the silence. But I need the money that comes in during a tour. So I’m trying to build a kind of parallel life into which I can retreat.

There seem to be some contradictions in other lyrics. The words do not seem to belong together. Like “Systems Of Romance” for example?

Yes, this may seem paradoxical at first glance. Some people think romance is completely natural. But even when you write a novel, romanticism is systematically built up. It’s a whole system. I also wanted to express that on the cover, where I use pictures as a visual description of the phrase. They represent advertisements. Signs that surround you every day. Like the suit someone wears: fashion is also part of the Romantic system. Likewise the city in which you live. And how people adapt to it, like when they feel the raindrops falling in front of a white neon light. Politics is another. For example, the statue of Lenin on Red Square in Moscow. Before anyone goes into politics, he must work out what he wants from other people. Which will influence the effect he wants to have on others. Above all, this is a question of image. How to create the right photo, very clean, with the right facial expression… Politics is like pop music.

Of which you are also an ingredient, are you?

Sure, yes, it would be silly not to be. The point is to understand the mechanisms of how the system works. I’ve heard a lot of experience by now, so I am beginning to understand it. That brings me a little further. Sometimes the image presented of an inexperienced album can be very naive, like maybe a flash-portrait by a good photographer. I might still like the photo, but what does it have to do with the music?

In your three albums, the first thing to note is the development that you are using more and more electro-resources. The first album had a lot more traditional rock elements?

Over time, we have learned what we can do in the studio. Unlike some, we have uncovered and refined a synthesizer tone. The first result was the drum-based song “My Sex”, then “Hiroshima Mon Amour”. Also in “Quiet Men”, we used a rhythm machine. That finally determined the whole piece.

At your concerts, I get the impression that most listeners are waiting for the familiar songs – especially pieces that appeal to the emotions. Are you aware of this?

First of all, if we were a pop band we would be more successful. But the key is: I want to be proud of what I do. I know there is an expectation that we should do headbanging rock all the time. But we do not, although we can play the ‘rock’ at least as well as anyone else. But we have noticed that many who at first only liked the rhythm of things like “ROckwrok” are showing just as much interest in other pieces.

Do the punks in particular come to your concerts because you embody an image, that of a robot or Mechanical Man?

Sure, that may be a reason for many. But we are totally different from other bands. On the one hand, there are people who like our music first and foremost. On the other hand, those who are more concerned with the lyrics. I can easily understand the reactions of the punks. After all, I was in a similar bottleneck where I lived in central England. ELP or Yes did nothing fo rthe kids, and they did nothing for me. But now they have the courage to go on stage and play themselves, that’s good. Even if it sounds awful in the beginning. When The Who made “My Generation”, they could barely play. Now the piece is a classic. Eno still does not play well, but he does wonderful things. Maybe that’s why… (laughs)

In particular, how do you get many so New Wave groups in the industrial regions as well as in London…?

There is one main reason for that. Apart from being new, Rock ‘n’ Roll is the only way for many kids to get out of their circumstances wherever they live. In the past you wanted to be a boxer or a footballer. Two of my friends have become professional footballers. I could not play football. So I became an artist.

 SYSTEMS OF ROMANCE was produced in Germany in Conny Plank’s studio.
Why did you decide that?

For a long time I have admired the productions that came from Germany, such as Neu! and Kraftwerk. In these recordings, you can see that German rock musicians for the first time were not re-enacting American music, but finding their own identity. We met Conny Plank at one of our concerts at the Marquee and he suggested maybe we could work together. That’s how it started. And we came to Cologne when Eno worked there with Devo [Ed. October 1977] It was fascinating, those three days. So we decided to produce the next album with Conny. He understands what we want. He showed us how he can implement our ideas. That’s the secret of a good producer.

Has this new experience of Germany, the new environment, affected your intentions?

Yes, because the album before, HA HA HA, was produced in the middle of London, in a rush, in rooms without windows. While Conny’s Studio is in a very beautiful setting, with scenery to look at. That’s also partly what “Quiet Men” is all about. During our first tour through Germany, we noticed that the country was much more organized than England. At that time, there was also the search for the Bader-Meinhof gang. We felt the tension. The police were very active. Behind this well organized facade ,something chaotic happened…

How do you explain that many musicians and rock fans in England think that German electronic music is “the big thing”, whereas it is not the case here?

It is an example of the story that the Prophet in his own land was nothing. Velvet Underground were more popular in England thatn in the US, for example. But success, what does that mean? We are satisfied if we succeed enough to be able to carry on making more music. Without always having to do the same thing, such as many teenage bands. You can be silly about these things. There is still so much new music to make.

How do you come to terms with acting on stage as a kind of superstar, but instead wanting to be in a cult band?

I find it more interesting to be in a cult band. Then you have an audience that is trying to understand you. I do not see that happening with a ‘superstar’ image. Although I use particular, chosen mannerisms, I am very aware of them and their effects so they do not become a permanent fixture. That way I don’t become something marketable, like the image of a drinker, a drug-user or a sexually attractive star. At least I try not to succumb to the mechanisms of such marketing.

Why do you wearing black, a non-colour?

I like it, that’s all… I thing I have come up with an interesting style. It would be great to have no image at all, no face. Making a record that just makes your voice come out so anyone who hears it can invent their own persona of the artist. But that’s a weird concept after music has been going the opposite way for more than 40 or 50 years.

Would you call your music functional music?

I don’t like to classify… ultimately, it always depends on what people expect. Some just go to a concert to spend a nice evening out. Others are waiting for us after the concert to talk to us about the lyrics and so on. Especially in Germany, that suits us… I think it’s just as good that people just love to dance to the music, the sound … yes, even the disco sound. That’s really great. It is very functional music. Take it or leave it! I do not like preachers!

Your music and your artistic work, the collages and drawings, seem to me influenced by Constructivism, also by Futurism?

Certainly yes. The Futurists were actually the first to see something positive in speed and in machines. I admire this view because it is a new way to understand things. Not to behave like the hippies in their rejection of all technology. My father once explained to me how well a book is made: growing the tree, producing the wood and the paper processing; then the writing, and the printing, until the book comes into the shops. Since then, I have a lot of respect for books, even more than for machines, because they are also made by humans. I know that some people make a lot of money out of publishing and factories, making other people work for them and practically taking away their lives. How that can be changed, I do not know. For that you have experienced it yourself first and also know a lot of other things. The words in “I Want To Be A Machine” are a bit of a vision that we are all part of a machine, an image-making process, where some are trying to set us up. Persuading us to buy things we do not need for our lives.

Does that include music?

Music can be used as an instrument, performing a function. And it can help you to change yourself. Before I publish anything, I work very conscientiously. I hope that the audience understands it. I do not know if it’s art, but at least it is a fulfilling activity when food and drink are not enough.

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ULTRAVOX: Turning concert halls into cauldrons

Bravo magazine (Germany) 7 December 1978

(with thanks to Carol ‘Cazzfoxx’ Firth for the source material)

1978-12-007Bravo.jpg

ULTRAVOX : Sie verwandeln Säle in Hexenkessel

Die Szene konnte aus einer der vielen London Punk-Kneipen stammen: Chaotisches Gedränge vor einer fast dunklen Bühne, Typen mit abgewetzten Jeans und Salatgabel-Frisuren schubsen und rempeln sich durch die Gegend.

Mädchen mit giftgrün gefärbten Haaren und schwarz geschminkten Lippen kicken übermütig leere Bierbecher über den Fussboden und strecken den wenigen “straight” (normal) aussehenden Leuten im Publikum – die meisten Ordner oder Pressfotografen – demonstrativ die Zunge heraus.
Aber es sind keine Englander – sondern rund 1500 Fans aus München, die im “Schwabinger Braü” ungeduldig auf den auftritt von Ultravox warten.
Die fünf Jungs aus London sind ein echtes Phänomen. Trotz sparsamer Werbung platzte bei ihrem ersten Münchner Konzert vor rund einem Jahr das “Downtown” aus alien Nähten. Und auch diesmal gingen die Karten in wenigen Tagen weg wie warme Semmeln – der Höhepunkt dieser driften Ultravox-Tour durch 14 deutsche Städte allerdings wär ihr Auftritt in Münster, wo 6000 Fans die Münsterlandhalle in einen Hexenkessel verwandelten.
Allerdings – eine Punk-Band sind Ultravox bei dieser dritten spektakulären Tour nicht mehr.
Sie wollen zumindest nichts zu tun haben mit den Exzessen, wie sie fur die Auftritte mancher Punkbands typisch geworden sind, und die die Musikrichtung New Wave insgesamt in ein schiefes Licht gerückt haben. Und sie lassen das die Fans auch wissen.
Kurz vor der Show kommt eine Durchsage, freundlich, in deutsch : Ultravox sind der Meinung, das die Zeiten vorbei sind, wo man seine Begeisterung mit Auldie-Bühne-spucken oder Bierdosenwerten ausdrückt. Bitte denkt daran, denn sonst konnte das Konzert schon in fünf Minuten vorbei sein…
Die Kids halten sich daran, selbst die wildesten Punks wollen nicht riskieren, das die Show platzt. Und dann hämmern John, Chris, Warren Billie und Robin los – sofort mit voller Power, ohne “Aufwärmnummer”, ohne Schnörkel.
Obwohl alle fünf einheitlich in schwarze, schlichte Kombis gekleidet sind, sticht ein Mann aus der Gruppe heraus: John Foxx, der ehemalige Kunststudent, der die Gruppe 1976 mit musik-begeisterten Studienfreunden aus dem Boden stampfte, und der den ehemaligen Roxy-Music-Star Brian Eno als Co-Produzenten für das erste, bahnbrechende Album “Ultravox” gewinnen konnte.
Obwohl er völlig auf Show-Effekte wie die wilde Körpersprache eines Mick Jagger verzichtet und auch nicht den rauchigen Schmelz in der Stimme wie Rod Stewart bieten kann, zieht er seine Zuhörer doch sofort in seinen Bann. Fast roboterhaft bewegt er sich auf der Buhne, der schlaksige Typ mit dem dunkelblonden Schopf und den scharf geschnittenen Gesichtszügen.
The Man Who Dies Every Day, singt er gerade – der Mensch, der jeden Tag aufs Neue stirbt” ein Titel aus der zweiten LP ha Ha Ha. Viele verstehen den. Viele verstehen den Text nicht, würden ihn nicht mal verstehen, wenn sie besser Englisch könnten. Denn die Ultravox-Songs haben nichts mehr gemeinsam mit den einfachen, mit Stichworten gespickten Texten ihrer ehemaligen New-Wave-Kollegen wie den Adverts, Clash oder Sex Pistols.
Sie behandeln zwar dieselben Themen, die Angste, Traüme und Wunschbilder der Menschen in unserer modernen Gesellschaft – aber sie sind viel komplizierter, voller Symbolismen und versteckter Anspielungen.
“Genau das will ich mit unserer Musik erreichen”, sagt John später in der Garderobe, abgekämpft, aber immer noch voller Energie “Die Leute sollen unsere Musik nicht einfach konsumieren, sondern wirklich spüren, erleben, ihre eigenen Schlüsse ziehen. Sie sollen mich verstehen – selbst wenn sie nicht meine Sprache sprechen.”
Um diese Sprach-Barriere wirklich zu überwinden, plant John für die Produktion der nächsten LP nach “Systems Of Romance” such ein Experiment, er will seine Songs verfilmen. Als gelernter Grafiker – die illustrationen zu den bisherigen Alben stammen von ihm – denkt John dabei nicht an einen Musikfilm wie “The Band”, sondern an Bilder, an Visionen und Collagen, die seine Songs illustrieren und noch besser verständlich machen sollen. “Bilder und die damit verbundenen inhalte versteht man in England wie in China. Dazu unsere Musik – ich glaube, dass das die optimale Art der Kommunikation mit dem Publikum ist” So nehmen Ultravox voraussichtlich im Frühjahr 79 erstmals Projektor und Leinwand mit auf Tour…

Photo caption:
So erlebten die Münchner Fans Ultravox live

 

ULTRAVOX : Transforming halls into cauldrons

It was like a scene from many London punk gigs : a chaotic scrum of fans in jeans and salad-fork hairstyles, pushing and jostling in front of a dark stage.

A girl with bright green hair and black lipstick kicks a beer can across the floor, and throws another at the only “normal” people in the audience – mostly press photographers – while sticking her tongue out at them.

But this is not England – this is 1500 fans in Munich’s Schwaßinger Braü, waiting impatiently for Ultravox.

The five guys from London are a real phenomena. Despite little advertising since their first concert in Munich earlier this year, when the ‘Downtown’ venue was bursting at the seams.

The highlight of this tour of 14 German cities, however, would be their appearance in Münster, where 6000 fans turned the Münsterlandhalle into a boiling cauldron. For tonight’s gig, the tickets sold like hot cakes.

However, Ultravox are no longer a punk band on this third spectacular tour. They want nothing to do with the extreme appearance that has become typical of punk bands, and see the New Wave fans in much the same bad light. And they let the audience know it too.

Shortly before the show begins, there is an announcement, friendly and in German : “Ultravox think that the days of showing your appreciation by spitting and throwing beer cans are over. Please bear this in mind, or the show could be over in five minutes…”

And the kids stick to this, not even the wildest punks want to risk stopping the show. And then John, Chris, Warren, Billie and Robin explode with full power – no warm up number, no frills.

Although all five are dressed in simple black outfits, one man stands out from the group : John Foxx, the former art student who started the group in 1976 recruiting music-loving friends with similar taste., like former Roxy Music star Brian Eno who co-produced the first album “Ultravox!”

Although he does not employ the wild body antics of Mick Jagger or the smoky voice of Rod Stewart, he draws the audience immediately under his spell. He moves robotically around the stage, a lanky guy with dark blond hair and sharp-cut features

“The Man Who Dies Every Day” he sings, from the second LP Ha! Ha! Ha! Many do not understand the words, and they probably wouldn’t even if they could speak better English. Ultravox songs are nothing like the simple words of bands like the Adverts, the Clash or Sex Pistols.

Although they deal with the same topics, fears, traumas and ideals of modern society, they are much more complicated, full of symbolism and hidden references. John gets the meaning of the songs across with his expressive eyes, shifting from one mood to the other with his hands – aided by the often bizarre and extreme riffs of new guitarist Robin Simon who has replaced Stevie Shears.

“That’s what I want to achieve with our music,” says John later in the dressing room, exhausted but still full of energy. “People should not simply consume our music, but really feel it, experience it, draw their own conclusions. They should understand me, even if they don’t speak my language.”

To overcome this language barrier, John plans for the next album after “Systems Of Romance” to be more of an experiment, and to make films for some of the songs. As a trained artist – the artwork on the Ultravox albums comes from him – John does not see the films as anything like “The Band” [ED : ’The Last Waltz’ – an account and presentation of the final concert of The Band, filmed in San Francisco in 1976. Martin Scorcese, April 1978] but instead a series of images, visions and collages that illustrate the songs and make them easier to understand. “The images and associated content should be as easy to understand in England as they are in China. I believe that is the best way of communicating the music to our audience.” So we should expect Ultravox to take a projector and screen with them on tour in spring 1979…

Photo caption:
This is how the Munich fans experienced Ultravox live

Ultravox UK Tours 1977 Part II

Ultravox second UK Tour
16 June -14 July 1977

On 18 June 1977, an article in Sounds announced a series of ‘club’ dates as follows, as a prelude to a full British tour in the autumn:

June 16: Marquee, London
June 17: Civic Hall, St Albans
June 18: Tiffany’s, Newcastle-under-Lyme
June 24: Penthouse, Scarborough
June 28: Tiffany’s, Shrewsbury
June 30: Marquee, London
July 01: Leeds Polytechnic
July 02: Civic Hall, Wolverhampton
July 03: Castaways, Plymouth
July 04: Top Of The World, Stafford
July 14: London Marquee

A week later on 25 June 1977, the same dates appeared in NME with two amendments. The first two dates are missing, and the show at Tiffany’s in Newcastle-under-Lyme was “Tonight, Thursday” instead of 18 June, which was the previous Saturday.
There are separate adverts in both papers for the shows at the Marquee on 16 June (the venue’s archive confirms this) and at St Albans City Hall (not Civic Hall) on 17 June. Support band Clemen Pull could not remember the date, but confirmed they did support Ultravox! at City Hall around this time.

Thus the archive has been amended to show a gig at Tiffany’s in Newcastle-under-Lyme on Thursday 23 June, 1977. While the itinerary and geography might not prove anything one way or the other, it does seem more logical to go with the latter of these two dates.

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The show in Plymouth on 3rd July confounds the logic: Wolverhampton (July 2) and Stafford (July 4) are only 25 miles apart, yet Ultravox! travelled a 450-mile round trip to Plymouth in between

There are two other dates on this map that have been added to the archive as ‘confirmed’ gigs thanks to articles in local and national papers, music archivists and another venue memoir. Tony Beesley’s book “Out Of Control” tells the story of the punk scene at two of Yorkshire’s most famous period venues, The Outlook in Doncaster and The Windmill in nearby Rotherham. Follow-up correspondence with him has confirmed the various dates Ultravox! played at those venues, including one supported by Bethnal on 19 May 1977. This doesn’t fit in with any listed or advertised ‘tour’ and may seem anomalous, until you consider that Ultravox! also played at Rebecca’s in Birmingham three days later, confirmed by the guys at the Birmingham Music Archive. The Outlook gig was also reviewed in Sounds on 4 June 1977, so that further confirms it was not part of this club date tour…

Minding The Gaps
So what of the three days between 24 and 28 June in Scarborough and Shrewsbury?
With nothing booked or listed, maybe it is simply that nothing happened. But one could speculate that the ‘unknown’ gigs at in Goole and Ashby-de-la-Zouch fit nicely…?
What is more likely though is that the booking at Tiffany’s in Shrewsbury confirms that the band did not play the ‘unknown’ rugby club date on this mini-tour which further points to it being on the earlier round in April.

Missing Dates…?
I have also been following up correspondence with two sources that either saw or supported Ultravox! around this time at unlisted venues, but are we unable to confirm dates. Both Langley College, Reading and Hitchin College could fit with this second round of gigs, given that Ultravox! played at least another two (above) that are not listed in adverts, but neither can be specifically accounted for at the moment.

Perhaps you can help?
Ticket stubs, diaries, personal anecdotes etc are very welcome and everything will be acknowledged and followed up.

Thanks for reading

Ultravox UK Tours 1977 Part 1

Ultravox first UK Tour
22 March -19 April 1977

Revisiting these dates again now with all that I have learned of Ultravox movements suggests that the itinerary as we know it is incomplete. This is no surprise.
The archive was initially built around dates published in NME on 26 March 1977 as follows:

March 24: Red Deer, Croydon
March 25: Marquee, London
March 26: Electric Circus, Manchester
March 28: Toby Jug, Tolworth
March 29: Railway Hotel, Putney
March 30: The Affair, Swindon
April 01: 76 Club, Dudley
April 02: Eric’s, Liverpool
April 03: Top Rank, Sheffield
April 04: Tiffany’s, Edinburgh
April 09: Priory Hotel, Scunthorpe
April 12: Top Rank, Brighton
April 13: La Fayette, Wolverhampton
April 15: Marquee, London
April 16: Rock Gardens, Middlesbrough

According to this advert, the dates were arranged by Brian Epstein’s NEMS agency, the leading booking agents of the period.

I have researched this tour (and all others by the band) for years, but until now, I have never considered them from a geographical perspective, from the point of view of plotting the shows on a simple map:

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What is interesting is the order of the shows, which don’t seem to follow any geographical logic and so must presumably have been booked according to available dates rather than with any efficient itinerary in mind? For example, they played the Marquee in London on Friday 25 March and then drove 200 miles to Manchester for a show the following evening. While this might not seem exceptional, Ultravox were than back in London for a gig in Tolworth on Monday 28th, and played at Eric’s in Liverpool three days after that…
The next few dates do make more logical sense (Swindon, Dudley, Liverpool, Sheffield, Edinburgh) although the question arises – why is there a gig ‘missing’ on Wednesday  31 March between Swindon and Dudley (Burton-on-Trent)?

Then between Monday 4th (Edinburgh) and Saturday 9th (Scunthorpe) there is a ‘gap’ of five days without a gig booking. And to close the tour, did Ultravox really travel 260 miles back up the A1 for a show in Middlesbrough?
Certainly an exhausting schedule, even with the gaps.

Minding The Gaps
While the NME listing is a starting point, I have uncovered a handful of other dates and factors that might fit in with this first tour.
In June 1981, Chris Cross listed in Smash Hits magazine Ten Gigs I Never Want To Play Again. Some of these are still unsourced, and these include:

Vikings, Goole and The Top Hat, Spennymoor
Shrewsbury Rugby Club
The Dolphins, Morecambe
Country Club, Ashby de la Zouch

It does not seem entirely unreasonable to suggest that Ultravox might have played Spennymoor and Goole on their journey from Edinburgh to Scunthorpe, between 4th and 9th April 1977. Which provides a starting point for further research, although no evidence at all of either gig has yet come to light.

From the map – assuming some application of logical travelling arrangements of course – I feel comfortable suggesting that the gig in Ashby de la Zouch is the ‘missing’ one for 31st March 1977. Chris Cross recalls that they played to one person, and not even the bar staff attended! Assuming this to be a reliable account (and there is no reason to think otherwise), then I am inclined to think this anecdote refers to an early gig. The band got very popular very quickly, so such an exclusive audience seems unlikely to be very much later in the year. It may however be equally within reason to place the Shrewsbury Rugby Club gig into this vacant date, but with even less evidence! There’s not much history of this venue at all online, so it also could be very early.

One more piece of the puzzle came to light on reading Tony Hill’s excellent memoir The Palace & The Punks which describes the “occasionally sad, but always true” story of the Grey Topper in a Nottinghamshire pit village. He mentions an Ultravox gig in the text, and then kindly sent me a copy of a page from the club’s booking diary confirming they appeared there on Tuesday 22 March 1977. Another gig listed in Chris Cross’s list of those he would rather forget, when there were more people in the fish shop opposite than at the gig. Both Cross and Tony Hill confirm this unfortunate circumstance.
The date however would suggest it to be their VERY FIRST show outside London?
How does that feel…?

Knowing the band’s preference for playing an unlisted warm-up before a tour, this appearance in the middle of nowhere in Nottinghamshire sits nicely ahead of the main sequence of dates. It does though also open up the possibility of another gig on 23rd March before the listed show in Croydon… Ashby de la Zouch on the way back?

Finally, the gigs in Croydon, Tolworth and Putney are all advertised together in NME the same issue as a above, presented by Fox Leisure. They seem fairly ‘concrete’ but of course one can never guarantee ANY of these listed shows actually went ahead other than discovering personal anecdotes or memoirs.

A speculative conclusion would be to suggest this itinerary:

March 22: Grey Topper, Jacksdale (Notts)
March 23: Country Club, Ashby de la Zouch???
March 24: Red Deer, Croydon
March 25: Marquee, London
March 26: Electric Circus, Manchester
March 27: Sunday off???
March 28: Toby Jug, Tolworth
March 29: Railway Hotel, Putney
March 30: The Affair, Swindon
March 31: Shrewsbury Rugby Club???
April 01: 76 Club, Dudley
April 02: Eric’s, Liverpool
April 03: Top Rank, Sheffield
April 04: Tiffany’s, Edinburgh
April 5/6: Top Hat, Spennymoor
April 7/8: Vikings, Goole

April 09: Priory Hotel, Scunthorpe
April 10: Sunday off???

Do The Mutation
By the 9th April, there were full page adverts in the UK press listing dates for April under the Do the Mutation headline.

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April 11: Covent Garden, London (additional to the dates listed on 26 March)
April 12: Top Rank, Brighton
April 13: La Fayette, Wolverhampton
April 15: Marquee, London
April 16: Rock Gardens, Middlesbrough

Three days after the Middlesbrough gig Ultravox! played five consecutive nights in Paris and then appeared in Brussels and Holland

Can You Help?
I like to think that a lot of this speculation is educated guesswork based on known habits and parameters, but I am more than happy to be proved wrong at any point. Evidence is very hard to find. “Previous investigations shape the search for information…”
if you have read this far and can help with any of this, please do get in touch.

Thanks for reading

 

 

Ultravox US Tour November 1979

During my research into Ultravox tour of America with John Foxx in Feb/March 1979 (and for the sake of completeness) I have been looking into the band’s second visit to the States a few months later, in November 1979.

I can’t find a record of these anywhere online that corresponds, so I’ll leave it here and add dates as and when. If you can add dates or corrections, do let me know.
Especially with anecdotes or evidenced by adverts, listings, tickets etc

Thanks (especially to Simon Dell)

 

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Midge Ure and Billy Currie – University of Maryland, December 1979 © Grudnick

Ultravox with Midge Ure, USA November 1979

01 November – Cascade, Shrewsbury UK (support: Last Gang)
02 November – Eric’s, Liverpool UK (support: Modern Airs)
03 November – Porterhouse, Retford UK

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?? November – Caird Hall, Dundee

09 November – Hot Club, Philadephia (support: the Cheaters)
10 November – Hot Club, Philadephia (support: the Cheaters)
11 November – My Father’s Place, Roslyn NY

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14 November – Hurrah, Manhattan NY (support: Dark Day)

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16 November – Paradise Theater, Boston MA (support: Motels)
17 November – Paradise Theater, Boston MA (support: Motels)
19 November – 80s Club, Ottawa Canada
22 November – Bookies 870, Detroit MI
23 November – Bookies 870, Detroit MI

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26 November – Harry Hopes, Cary IL
27 November – Park West IL (support: Motels)
28 November – B’Ginnings, Schaumburg, IL

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29 November – Palms, Milwaukee WI

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?? November – Euphoria, Portland OR

Scowl: Ultravox forum, December 2010 – We rarely get snow here but damned if we didn’t get a snowstorm that shut the city down the night they were here.

04 December – Old Waldorf, San Francisco CA – two shows
05 December – Lawrence Opera House, Kansas City (supporting Buzzcocks)

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Some sources suggest that Buzzcocks (not Ultravox) played this venue on this date, supported by the Cramps??
06 December – Norman Boomer Theatre, Oklahoma City (supporting Buzzcocks)

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08 December – Agora Ballroom, Atlanta GA (support: New Blood)
?? December – University of Maryland, College Park MD
12 December – Club 57, Irving Plaza, NY
13 December – Club 57, Irving Plaza, NY
14 December – Dooley’s, Phoenix AZ
18 December – Squeeze, Riverside CA
27 December – Cuckoo’s Nest, Costa Mesa CA

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28 December – Whisky-a-Go-Go, Hollywood CA
29 December – Whisky-a-Go-Go, Hollywood CA
30 December – Whisky-a-Go-Go, Hollywood CA (support: Great Buildings)
31 December – Whisky-a-Go-Go, Hollywood CA (support: Alleycats)

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Ultravox – Warren Cann interview (1977)

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I recently made a transcript of this interview as part of my 40 Years of Foxx project.
It’s interesting to read the perspective of other band members.

This took a lot of work to transcribe.
LINK to this page if you make reference – please don’t copy and paste the contents

SNOT RAG (Fanzine, Vancouver BC)
No. 4 December 20, 1977

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Ultravox first came into prominence late last year, and immediately drew mixed reaction from the critics. Hailed by NME:

“If the New Wave of rock is going to produce bands a s good as ULTRAVOX, then it looks like 1977 might be as good as 1967 for modern music”

and lauded by Melody Maker’s CAROLINE COON:

“ULTRAVOX are obviously another new band who are going to make 1977 a vintage year for Rock… some very special talents are t work here.”

Their detractors accused them of being contrived, a mere imitation of ROXY MUSIC. However as 1977 comes to a close ULTRAVOX have most certainly stood the test. With two successful albums and a string of singles, they have completed highly successful tours or Europe and Britain. The band are confident about their future and have never sounded stronger. Their music is a perfect blend of complex rock and futuristic vision. Drummer WARREN CANN and bassist CHRIS CROSS provide a tight rhythm section, embellished by Billy Currie on keyboards and strengthened with STEVIE SHEARS frantic guitar work. The band provide a perfect show-case for the fragile yet devastating lyrics of their manic vocalist JOHN FOXX.
I recently had the opportunity to gain an interview from ULTRAVOX drummer WARREN CANN, (undoubtedly one of the best drummers to emerge from the New Wave). What follows is that interview in its entirety.

S.R. –    You’ve recently completed your biggest British tour ever, was it as successful as you had hoped?

W.C. –  Yes, we played all over the country and the audiences were great. They know us better now and aren’t as easily throne by some of the things we do. We’ve tried ever since we began to keep changing, to keep mutating. We’re not interested in finding a formula and flogging it to death like so many of the dinosaurs, or like a lot of the punks do for that matter.
I think that the one thing people can expect from ULTRAVOX! is constant change. We’ve just completed our first tour of Europe, that was from mid-October through to mid-November. We played in Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium and Holland. The audiences over there were great. They’re different from English audiences in that they don’t tend to go off like a rocket when you walk onstage – they sit there and really listen, then as the music goes on they get more and more involved until at the end they’re going spare.

S.R. –    I understand you weren’t too happy about the conditions under which you recorded the first album? Can you elaborate?

W.C.    What??? I don’t know where you heard that… nothing like that happened, we were really happy about it all. So would you, too, if you’d been knocking on record company doors for two years and constantly being given the elbow.
You see, in those days there was absolutely nothing happening. When we started London was like a wasteland, none of us could hear what we wanted to hear or what we felt it was necessary to hear so we just decided to do it ourselves.
It was only later on that we discovered there were a few small pockets of change happening. THE HOTRODS, THE FEELGOODS, the LONDON SS, THE STRANGLERS and what was to become The Clash, plus a lot of other people who have since surfaced, they were all on the streets then but it was just that the scene was totally underground then. The media here was still down on their knees at the feet of the DOOBIE BROS and DEEP PURPLE.
We were something the record company people hadn’t seen for a long time, a band off of the street, a band with no famous or ex-name people in it. An untested commodity that they were scared shitless of. To make out demos we had to sneak into a studio where a friend of ours worked. We’d go in on the weekend and come out just before the cleaning ladies arrived on a Monday morning. When we finally found ISLAND we were over the moon about being able to go and get our sounds down on vinyl and get them out and about. We did it in their own studio in Hammersmith. Until then it was only the second studio we’d ever been in so it didn’t make any difference to us where we did it.
All I can suggest as to why you heard we weren’t happy with it is a complaint that everybody in the world must have. Immediately after you’ve done an album you feel you could’ve done it better, if only we’d done this or that or the other thing etc. We’re learning to come to grips with that, both from having some experience in the studio now and because we really like how accidents can turn into things that give you new ideas. We’re trying to do more and more things as quickly as possible. If you take two weeks getting the toothbrush overdubs right the thing just dies in your hands. A lot of stuff on the first album was done very quickly and a lot of stuff on HA! HA! HA! was done first take. You get a rawness then that you wouldn’t get otherwise…

S.R. –    Just how big a part did ENO play in the actual production end of it?

W.C. –  When we were discussing the album with Island, they wanted to know if we wanted a producer on it or not. We were open to the idea if whoever it was was interesting and they suggested that we meet ENO. ENO was still on Island and we rather suspect that it was because they felt he was the only person that could understand what we were trying to do!
We met ENO and immediately got on with him. He has this reputation of being a very esoteric fellow clouded in mystery, but really he’s a perfectly straightforward bloke who hasn’t let his musical ideas become calcified by the trends of the music biz. He’s great. You could say that while we were in the studio together we were mutually experimenting on each other.

S.R. –    How do you feel about the new album?

W.C. –  We’re knocked out by it. We’ve got a lot more confidence in the studio now, we know what dials to pull to get whatever we want and that gives you a good backing from where you can afford to take more and more chances. I like it because I think we’ve managed to go in at least two different directions at once. It’s a lot harder than the first album and it’s a lot stranger at the same time. We’ve become more and more interested in pure noises, sounds that just rip into you and rattle around, or sounds that seduce you in other less obvious ways.
There seems to be so much rock & roll at the moment that’s only blasting out aggression and frustration. Well, that’s fine, but there are a whole lot of other emotions in the human spectrum. We’ll use the claws when we want to but we want to evoke other feelings as well: mania, passion, serenity, remorse…
The next one will be even more different, we’ve got a lot of ideas and have been thinking a lot about what we’re going to do. It’s another departure. I suppose in that respect we’re not really what you’d call marketable… but that’s what keeps us excited by what we’re doing. We’ve got a completely free hand by the record company and there’s no reason why any of us would want to keep making the same records over and over again.

S.R. –    Do you have any plans for touring the States in the near future? If so when and where?

W.C. –              We have a major British tour in January and then we’ll be over to the States. I think we’ll be going to New York first, perhaps do a few gigs on the East Coast and then go over to L. A. for a while. I don’t imagine it will be what you’d term an intensive tour because we’ll opt for presenting our own show in smaller places rather than being on the same bill as TED NUGENT. I mean, the two wouldn’t be compatible at all… We’re not well known in the States and when you’re doing those sort of concerts its nice to be playing to thousands of people at a time and all that but chances are the match between acts is just so prone craziness. I’d much rather we started playing in clubs and things where the initial audience have the chance, for both our sakes, of seeing us do our show on our own in a place where there’s a bit of contact with each other.
Offhand, I think the only band we’d be excited by the idea of touring with would be KRAFTWERK, they’re great. Plans change every five minutes. We’ve got a lot of things that we want to do, and the chances are that America and Canada might not see us until later in the year. We’ll just have to wait and see… I hope it’s soon, I think we’ll kill ‘em. The time is right for us to go. I think the States has heard so much about the punk thing, the New Wave thing and gotten it all arse backwards. There must be a hardcore element to everything, I suppose. I mean… The people that originated the punk thing here have all dropped out. They’re probably all off somewhere blowing a spliff and growing their hair. The media has woken up too. – too late of course for punk – and have flogged it to death. You see adverts for mail order punk gear! Half of the drag they’re selling now for punks the majority of people can’t even afford! It’s all dead except the shouting.
There are so many second and third rate copies of the PISTOLS and the CLASH knocking about now that it’s pathetic. It did give music a gigantic kick up the arse when it needed it, but instead of thinking and trying to get different things together, the punks have gone even more conservative than the people they wanted to oust.
We’ve been knocked a lot for the sins of using an acoustic guitar in MACHINE; for having keyboards and synthesizer in our line-up; for having a violin! Those things aren’t done!

Every now and then we sing a harmony – what fussy farts we are! I think it’s beginning to sort itself out now though, it’s going to be very interesting to see who survives the initial blast and carries on. Right now there are some great bands in London who are getting rather lost in the shuffle because they aren’t currently slotting in with the punk idiom. The singer with the BOOMTOWN RATS said “New Wave rules…and the first rule is…” Things will be turbulent, but that’s the best way for any change to get through, the boat is gonna get knocked all over the world and all I can say is “What took it so long!” Thanks SNOT RAG from ULTRAVOX!